An Ordinary Soldier by Capt Doug Beattie, A review.

Discussion in 'The Book Club' started by Ord_Sgt, Aug 27, 2010.

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  1. Ord_Sgt

    Ord_Sgt RIP

    An Ordinary Soldier is an unusual book. It’s sort of an autobiography but doesn’t dwell on growing up or previous history. Doug Beattie skims over his early life and indeed most of his early career. He points out at the beginning that it was originally written for his family but was persuaded it might appeal to a wider audience. I'm glad whoever that was convinced him, as its a riveting read. I read it in one sitting and couldn't put it down.

    He was RSM when Col Tim Collins gave his now well known speech at the start of the Second Gulf War, he does confirm that he thought it set in train a little too much thinking by the troops while still being inspirational. He dealt with that by shouting a bit and getting the guys busy and preventing them from dwelling on what was ahead.

    Some of you might have come across Doug in ‘fighting passions’ a documentary talking about the act of killing in war. If you haven’t seen it you should. An incredibly articulate explanation by him of what it is to kill and the questioning of what that means to your humanity. Not so much what you have done, or even of regret, but how he worried about what those close to him might think about him in relation as to whom they thought he was before. Look up the documentary as it’s not something I can explain better than him.

    The core of the book is about the re taking of Garmsir in 2006. It tells of the gallant efforts of a hotch potch of soldiers from various Arms and Corps, along side ANA and ANP, all of which acquitted themselves very well considering the circumstances.

    His book goes on to describe his part in mentoring and ultimately commanding the ANP in the sometimes desperate battle in Garmsir. He, along with the ANP and ANA with an OMLTeam fought for the domination of the town, DC and surrounding areas.

    It’s written in the first person, not by a ghost writer I think, and describes his feelings, actions, and sometimes frustrations over a two week battle, that was supposed to last a day.

    There is clear bravery by the Afghans; there is also disdain for some who didn’t seem to see it other than some form of self elevation. ‘Get me a medal and some whisky’.

    The Brits and Estonians performed superbly, as did the ANP. The ANA come across as less than impressive, but also demonstrating a reckless bravery in the bid to recover a fallen commander.

    KAF don’t get a lot of good press, whether that is based on his not having the bigger picture or genuine failures in the command structure are difficult to know. No commander ever has what he thinks he needs as we all know. There is an incident when the Estonian Doctor on scene is asked to justify his request for the IRT for a T1 casualty, his reply was essentially I’m the doctor on scene, send it or I will file a report about your failure to react with my HQ. The Cas was an Afghan soldier.

    It tells of the Cpl medic who quite frankly did an amazing job. Also Doug’s driver who was, thankfully the only Brit casualty, with an arm wound. There are many characters that influenced the outcome which a review can't cover in enough detail.

    The narrative had me envisioning each and every battle, seeing the compounds, tree lines and irrigation ditches of the seemingly endless contacts. Mortar rounds fired, air strikes called in. The JTAC was an incredibly cool and professional customer, who sadly didn’t receive an award for his outstanding performance.

    I felt the immediacy of the moments, the decisions that needed to be taken with sometimes incomplete information. It really took me to where each contact was fought whereby I could almost see the ground.

    There was a reporter with them during the first six days, who later made a BAFTA awarded documentary, fighting the Taliban, which does a lot to show what went on during that action and some of the intensity of the fire fights, but doesn’t even come close to showing what the book reveals. Doug does say he had his opinion of reporters raised by what Sean turned out.

    I would honestly say of all the Afghanistan or Iraq books I’ve read so far, this gave me a better understanding of what goes on with the guys on the ground than any others to date.
     
  2. thanks for the review! I was speaking to a close friend of his the otherday and along with his thoughts you have convinced me to go and get a copy

    cheers
     
  3. I was given his book Operation Helmand last Christmas and thanks to your review I'll put it on this year's list.
     
  4. been meaning to pick this up for a while
    thats my book for the beach next week then...
     
  5. Ord_Sgt

    Ive read this too and found it okay - not great but okay.

    Have a read of Attack State Red by Col Richard Kemp and Chris Hughes. Easily one of the most gripping books on Herrick that Ive read to date.
     
  6. I read it and I found it an interesting read.
     
  7. I'm about halfway through the book at the moment. It is excellent so far. It is different, in a good way, from the other Iraq/Afghan accounts that I have read. The autobiography aspect is a good base to start from. It's a good book all round.
     
  8. Ord_Sgt

    Ord_Sgt RIP

    About to start Attack State Red this evening.
     
  9. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    I had the pleasure of meeting Doug over the summer as he was preparing for his third Afgan tour, whch he had just rejoined the army specifically for. Very nice guy and - to my surprise, given what one reads in the media, including on here - a very strong believer in/supporter of the Afghan mission.

    This book did very well, but apparently his second Afghan book did not - by the time that came out, there were a million and one competing books out on Herrick. Anyway, I have got this one on my reading list after I finish a current project at end-Oct.

    Having read "Attack Force Red" I would imagine Doug's book to be a rather more thoughtful read. He REALLY knows Afghanistan and analyses it well, verbally. "Attack Force Red" OTOH is, while a good book, I think reflective of our lack of success over there; The tour reads like a succession of firefights, with no way or measuring progress, no strategic input nor analysis, and little knowledge of the human terrain over which the battlegroup was fighting. No putdown of the troops involved is intended - the book is an action-packed read - but "interesting" is not an adjective I would use to describe it.

    For those of you who want a truly exceptional book on Afghan, and more generally, on the behaviour of men at war, read "War" by Sebastian Junger. This book does for soldiering what "The Perfect Storm" (the book, not the film) did for shipwrecks.
     
  10. I can recommend both his books. Reading between the lines with 'An Ordinary Soldier' I got the impression he wasn't too keen on Tim Collins.
     
  11. This week marks fifth anniversary of the Battle of Garmsir which Doug and his handful of colleagues took part in (as recounted in the book An Ordinary Soldier). So here's the question. Given that between them they received one CGC, two MCs and two MiDs, does this remain the most decorated British Army patrol since Bravo Two Zero? Lot of stuff going on in Afghan and elsewhere but in terms of medal count - crass measure I know - this action continues to stand out...
     
  12. Watch the Sean Langan documentary: Dispatches - Fighting the Taliban. You can actually follow the battle in the book on the documentary. Plus its an excellent stand alone doc on Afghan at the time.

    I would link it but i'm in work and access to streaming media and torrent sites is blocked.
     
  13. I've seen the programme in bits on YouTube. Part one is Fighting The Taliban (Dispatches) Part 1 of 5 - YouTube Five parts in all. Well worth watching as you say. Sean says the battle lasted for a week, but it went on for another week after he left with the British contingent falling to just three soldiers.